By Jordyn Misura

three guys performing on stage in front of a crowd

Photo of Veloso, A. Oliveira, and Khater taken by Marco Muia | posted to @micotoronto on December 12, 2023.

A group of Toronto musicians crisscrossing the United States on MICO’s first North American tour stops off to grab a quick bite to eat at Ike’s Love for Sandwiches in Oakland, Calif., across the bay from San Francisco, one of the many destinations set for The Fantasy Tour. Leaving their precious gear and a snoozing drummer, Matthew Oliveira, inside their Mercedes Sprinter van, the tranquility is shattered when a sudden crash breaks the stillness. Oliveira’s eyes fly open, heart pounding in his chest as adrenaline surges through his veins. He sits up in a daze, trying to make sense of the chaos unfolding around him. He shouts for his bandmates. Before anyone can fully grasp the situation, Oliveira’s eyes widen as he watches a shadowy figure dart out of the van, clutching two bags tightly to his chest. The thief sprints towards a waiting Lexus, the engine roaring to life as they make their getaway. The musicians don’t know it at the time, but they are later told the street they chose for a brief pit stop had a reputation for smash-and-grabs. Panic mixed with frustration sets in as the band takes  stock of the missing items – passports belonging to Andrew Oliveira and Nick Muias, $9,000 worth of gear, and Muias’ precious hard drive with his music, no back up and gone without a trace. 

It’s a scenario that would shake most people. But they had insurance, like any responsible touring band would, and the ability to shake it off and move on with the The Fantasy Tour in fall of 2023 was helped by the fact that this wasn’t a group of young men who’d just been thrown together for a multi-city tour through Canada and the United States. “The guys,” as they refer to themselves, have known each other forever. Their dynamic leaves an impression: laid back, hilarious, and a lot of fun to be around.

Mico singing and Oliveira with a guitar on stage
Veloso and Oliveira on stage taken by Julia Tsaknis | posted to @raffaeleix on January 22, 2024.

Brothers Andrew and Matthew Oliveira met Nick Muia and Jason Khater at Mayfield Secondary School in Caledon, Ontario, when their friend and 21-year-old frontman and songwriter fans know as MICO was listed on class attendance sheets as Miguel Veloso.

Brothers Andrew and Matthew Oliveira met Nick Muia and Jason Khater at Mayfield Secondary School in Caledon, Ontario, when their friend and 21-year-old frontman and songwriter fans know as MICO was listed on class attendance sheets as Miguel Veloso.

Back then, the rockstar dream they are living with a tour that cost $60,000, according to MICO’s Instagram page, seemed far-fetched at best. After all, they met in a vocal jazz choir course and spent their lunch breaks preparing for musicals or shows collaborating with other bands in genres far different from MICO’s pop-rock sound. But this is the era of social media, where it can be a short hop from a viral video to filling the 19,800-seat Scotiabank Arena for a three-night run in Toronto. Noah Kahan, a 20-something from Vermont, will do just that in April. His breakthrough from obscurity to packed-out venues and a Grammy nomination –  all thanks to his title track “Stick Season” ricocheting around social media platform TikTok in 2020 – was chronicled in a lengthy profile in the February issue of The New Yorker magazine. On a much smaller scale, “the guys” wound up touring last fall courtesy of one of MICO’s songs blowing up on TikTok during the COVID-19 pandemic. A clip from the unreleased song “Down” posted to the social media platform in August of 2021, pulled in more than 1.8 million views.

“It allowed us to tour North America,” said Oliveira, who plays bass and guitar. Still sweaty from his weekly workout on a recent Monday in Toronto, and toting a backpack, he has a scruffy look more in keeping with  a university student than a musician coming off a whirlwind of tours. In fact, most of the band (for hire) are third and fourth-year university students, and Oliveira, who is pursuing his bachelor of music degree at Toronto Metropolitan University, took a semester off to join the latest tour that ran from September to December 2023, the one that included the infamous smash-and-grab.

An update was posted to MICO’s Instagram account when the theft happened, referring to it as a “rite of passage” for a touring band. More than 170 fans commented with various reactions, including one comfortable enough to respond: “sorry that happened & sorry for laughing.”

There is little question social media has fundamentally changed the music business, offering opportunities to reach beyond geographical boundaries and opening the door for interaction with fans both on and off stage. But social media also presents challenges for aspiring artists, chief among them the sheer volume of content and platforms. Brian Fauteux, an associate professor of popular music and media studies at the University of Alberta, said music genres and marketing trends cycle through more quickly than in the past because there’s so much happening at any given time. And while TikTok has been the place for breakouts like Kahan, there are multiple places to find music, from streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music to YouTube and SoundCloud. 

“With people switching from platform to platform, it’s hard to know which platform is going to be the dominant force in advertising the music,” Fauteux said.

MICO is verified on Instagram with a following of just under 190,000, and has 462,000 followers on TikTok. Monthly listener count on Spotify is just above 500,000 and the most listened-to song, “Cut My Hair”, has just under 11 million (virtual) spins. The latest release, “The Afterparty EP,” was written by Veloso entirely in his bedroom, according to Oliveira.

Veloso’s slick dark hair flops down into his face as he sings, clutching the mic and dancing around the stage as if he was born to perform. During a concert near the end of The Fantasy Tour, he tore off a sweaty t-shirt to the cheers and roars of his fans. Action shots and eye-catching outfits from shows, like guitarist Oliveria’s iconic crop top and matching purple pants, dot MICO’s Instagram feed. 

But while social media has played a critical role in capturing attention from fans – and even other influential musicians – it doesn’t pay the bills for most, said Fauteux. 

Some social media platforms like YouTube and streaming services like Spotify can provide a revenue source, but “different artists make wildly different amounts from streaming,” he said. And touring, once lucrative, has been shaken up by a long pause during the pandemic, further challenging the business side of music.

“Before the COVID-19 lockdown, touring made up about 70-80% of a band’s income, but post lockdown it’s become uncertain,” Fauteux said.

Bands can subsidize tours and independent music production by selling merchandise – and MICO does. But, as it was for decades before social media platforms took off, it’s a tough go for most to earn a living wage without the backing of a record label to pick up the many costs of making music and long stretches on the road. “It’s just not feasible,” said Oliveira.

Fauteux said some musicians are becoming  more entrepreneurial when it comes to marketing themselves in the social media era, finding avenues like licensing their music for television and film. Others he’s spoken to are trying to make songs that you can dance to, solely in hopes of blowing up on TikTok. 

“Even in the last 10 years or so, there are things that are really driven through YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and various streaming sites,” he said.

In November 2021, Veloso posted a video singing a cover of “Desperate Measures,” by Vancouver band Marianas Trench.  After the cover received thousands of likes and views, Marianas Trench lead singer Josh Ramsey, who was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2013 for co-writing the Carly Rae Jepsen hit “Call Me Maybe”, joined in alongside MICO singing the song on TikTok. 

That connection led to MICO opening for Marianas Trench on June 2, 2023 at Caesars in Windsor, Ontario, near the end of MICO’s Person of Interest Tour. Reminiscing on the  experience, Oliveira said the Juno Award winning band – who he referred to simply as “Trench” – made the up-and-comers  feel comfortable throughout the collaboration.  “They were great guys and they were super nice and accommodating to us, shout out to them,” he said.

Almost a year later, MICO is set to perform June 1 at the Budweiser Stage, an Amphitheatre that holds about 5,000 under its roof and has total capacity of 16,000.

It’s a very different scene from high school lunchrooms and auditoriums where they came together and is sure to have more of a rockstar vibe than local venues played by Highway 50, a previous band featuring some of “the guys” that fizzled during the pandemic. Despite the measurable success MICO has had, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. A list of hiccups includes trouble with audio in the middle of shows, sometimes even before the show starts, Veloso losing his voice, and that unforgettable theft in California. But it’s all part of the adventure for the friends, brothers and bandmates. “Everything is a learning experience, so take on the chin and roll with the punches,” Oliveira said, “and figure out how to fix it so it doesn’t happen again.”

Interview with “streeters” on their music taste and backgrounds.